Ridiculous I know, but when we are about to salute a new First Minister and have an unprecedented surge in support for Scottish Nationalism, the most gripping story in town is…Labour.
I have never known a time when Labour was in such disarray in Scotland, so uncertain, so edgy and threatened…when oblivion loomed. Oh, there have been predictions from opponents or hand-wringing insiders and commentators of how Labour was struggling and could be forced into retreat but never – never – has there been a moment when the people themselves precipitated total mayhem.
The existential crisis engulfing Labour is not caused by the SNP or by Nicola or by the referendum as such, it is born out of the reawakening of the Scots to the duplicitous machine politics of hypocrites posing as socialists.
We came close during the poll tax debate when Labour lost its courage and went down on its knees to the sovereignty of the British Parliament and the Tories’ right to legislate against majority interest, but then it was left to nationalists, real socialists, students and trade unionists to carry the flag. The law-abiding opponents did not desert Labour and accepted they had gone as far as respectability allowed.
This time, the revolt is cross-cultural, running through all social groups and political outlook, a pulsing, deep-rooted revulsion at an organisation without principle, patriotism, policy or presentation – and without power.
It isn’t that I think Scots are crying out for left-wing policies, it is that they have seen through, and are repelled by, Labour pretending to represent that position. ‘We are a party of the Left who behave like a party of the Right…we get away with it because we contrast ourselves with Tories.’ The evolution of the SNP as a common sense European social democratic party selecting policies irrespective of Left-Right provenance has allowed them to outflank Labour AND build on their brand identification of standing up for Scotland.
This is exactly where Labour stood throughout the pre-devolution years – undeniably Scottish, working class in origin while embracing capitalism, demanding more domestic powers, campaigning for fairness and opposing doctrinaire Toryism. So it isn’t just the success of the SNP that has crippled Labour, it is their own failure to defend their ground.
Blairism, with its middle class aspiration, barely concealed greed and rejection of a common social ethic, ate into the soul of Scottish Labour. Blair pragmatism and policy triangulation is all about accommodation and compromise and desperation to have universal appeal – a dread of being disliked. And when that moment came about – to make a tough choice – over the decision to invade without UN mandate, the people who needed to be accommodated and appealed to were powerful overseas allies, not the voters who elected them. (Harold Wilson refused to help LBJ with British troops in Vietnam).
Worth noting here that Labour’s failure to opt for civil disobedience to defeat the poll tax was because of they would not urge people to break the law. Yet on Iraq, they (initially) defied their own law officers and then the United Nations in order to attack, in an effective breach of international law. We see this same British ambivalence to the law in a Tory government adopting a strict legal code for citizens and immigrants yet refusing to pay a legal debt to the EU under European rules they themselves agreed.
So do any of the declared candidates offer hope that Labour can reverse what looks like catastrophe next May? I think not.
First, because I don’t think this is just a leadership issue. Far from it. This is existential – fundamental to its very being. Replacing one leader with another doesn’t answer the basic questions that are driving voter revulsion. Why is there a Labour Party? Who do we serve? Why do we do it and how are we going to advance the case? You can spin out a few ideas through leadership but you’re really appealing to the electoral college for votes and telling them what they want to hear. Promises will be made about change but this is not a bedrock reform process designed to engage all of Scotland. It is an internal bagatelle trying to hit as many pressure points as possible in the allotted time to win points.
It will merely decide who gets to determine what changes are made – another top-down, I-know-best exercise the electorate despises.
Since Labour seem stuck with the soviet-esque electoral college, shouldn’t each candidate declare that they will refuse the appointment if they don’t win the popular vote? Or, if they win without the support of ordinary members, they will immediately submit themselves to a separate referendum of the rank and file to get endorsement…
I think Murphy will win. I think Labour has set this up for Murphy to win and has prepared concessions in advance that he will ‘secure’ during the campaign. London want one of their own in charge, not another northern numpty, even if it is the out-of-favour Murphy.
The coverage he receives already spells disaster for the others. He dominates the mainstream because he is a known quantity, has profile in London, understands how to milk the media (and has his lieutenant McTernan campaigning through the media on his behalf). Those who would oppose him in the vote – half of the payroll hate him – have to look now at their own self preservation and the writing is on the wall for them unless someone – anyone – can pull them back from the brink. They will vote for him regardless after the recent polls.
I’m afraid his opponents simply don’t match up in the media performance stakes which will largely determine the outcome. This morning on Radio Four neither Boyack nor Findlay sounded remotely convincing or even competent, both heavy on prognosis but lightweight on solution. They sounded timorous and unsure when they are supposed to be full of passion and possibility. They sounded exactly what Murphy is suggesting they are – self-pitying and defeated. If neither can answer the question: Why aren’t you connecting with the voters, then they don’t deserve to win. If they can’t find a phrase to criticise Miliband however mildly then they haven’t the balls for the job.
Frankly, the two of them would sound to English ears the personification of what has gone wrong in Scotland – poor quality politicians with nothing to say beyond platitudes.
But the election of Murphy is only the beginning of Labour’s problems. He will have Kezia Dugdale as deputy – a wise choice – but he will be the living, breathing embodiment of everything Labour have become…metropolitan, right wing and sleekit. The areas for criticism are already appearing from overt support for Israeli policy interests to anti-universalism and nuclear weapons – a right-wing leader of a lost party. He dare not open up the party to a comprehensive review of the operation and policy for fear of the consequences and will field an uncomfortable array of faces and voices in his coterie. Expect an even heavier dose of John McTernan on television…and this is the solution?by